My last two posts have been a list on building principles of success into our families. It isn’t easy going against the cultural tide of busyness, materialism, and 24/7 screen time.
Read on for the last of the thirteen principles that can strengthen our families and extend our parental influence.
#6. No screens.
As screen time has increased among children and teens you might want to take this drastic step. In early posts I went over the concern growing within Silicon Valley and how computer engineers were limiting their own children’s technology because they saw the disastrous effects of too much screen time.
We had no cable TV when we raised our children starting in the 1980’s until 2018. They got an hour a day to do video games as a carrot to do their chores, homework, practicing and reading. Now video games include headsets and a community of friends who are also gaming. It is hard to turn against the tide. I get it. Do your research on the families that have chosen to have no screens. Their positive experiences and the effect it has had on their family life is pretty compelling.
Without cable TV we had to work harder for entertainment but the quality improved of what they were watching. We rented a lot of movies from the library each week and had ten or so movies we owned. This was a big effort on my part, but we could also get books while we were there to keep movie watching at bay. Again, if their chores, practicing and homework were done they could watch the rented or movies that we owned. When I finally gave those 10 VHS tapes to a family with younger children there was outrage from my own children. They loved those movies! My adult children have thanked me over and over for limiting TV time, video games and computer time, but it wasn’t so popular at the time. I had a lot of complaining and grumbling.
A family in Slow Family Living had no screens for 4 hours each night, including the parents, from 4:00 to 8:00 so that they were connecting together. Another mother I know turns her wi-fi off at 10:00 each night, to make sure all of them, even the parents, are off and getting a good night’s sleep.
#7. Teach your children what to do in their spare time.
My mother taught me to read and I was off to the races. Whenever I told her I was bored she would say, “Go read.” One of the reasons we had no cable TV in the above example is because I was trying to make reading more attractive. If you catch your children early enough they will love the stories and the new worlds they have access to and spend hours reading.
Help your children develop hobbies. The small amount of time and focus you invest initially, will repay you and your child exponentially with hours and hours of enjoyment and involvement that don’t require screens to produce well-being and happiness.
#8. Hard Things
Help your children do hard things, over and over. This was a major theme of my parenting because I had benefited so much from my husband’s grit. My motive was to pay the benefits I received, forward. I wanted my children to be amazing marriage partners, so they had a chance at succeeding at their marriages. “Self-Discipline”, Dr. Roy Buameister, a psychologist, said, “ is the queen of all the virtues”. I have seen this be true as my children have handled hard things like health problems, 2-year church missions, and job uncertainty. As you consciously let your children handle their lives, resilience blooms. They are crafting within themselves the will to make themselves do the things they don’t want to do, every day–“self” discipline. This is a priceless gift you are helping them form. Building self-discipline will help your child become less of a consumer and more of producer, less of a taker, and more of a giver. You are preparing them to be successful in every area of their lives, for the rest of their lives.
#9. “(Parents) Who Know Do Less”
I thought this quote was such a summation on how to bring more quality experiences and meaning into our lives. Julie B. Beck, said:
“Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord’s kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power.”
From Mary Piper’s book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, she is encouraging us to pick wisely:
“It is the driven of the world who have the hardest lives. They don’t see their families or have time to enjoy a garden or a bedtime story. They may have money and prestige, but they are poor. True wealth for our family means the time to be patient and loving with each other, time to rest and play, and a sense that we are doing what we can to be good citizens of the earth.”
Just reading this quote felt so restful. Look how rich your family life can become as you choose less. Choosing to do and have less is so counter cultural but so essential.
#10. Don’t Control
If you read the book, The Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, you remember the dramatic climax when her 13-teen-year-old daughter, tired of practicing her instrument, dramatically cut off one side of her hair in order to shock her mother. Later, when the mother kept pushing her to practice, she had a major tantrum in a restaurant where she threw a glass that shattered and then screamed at her mother.
The reviews of this book call Amy Chua, the author, “OCD”, and a “helicopter parent”. The book is her journey in coming to terms with her Chinese heritage and their strict parenting style, compared to the laid-back Western style of parenting that she saw in other parents. Amy admits she wanted her children to be successful, and as a driven daughter of immigrant Chinese parents, she was trying to raise her daughters as she had been raised. It is this focus on outward achievement at all costs of relationships, time, energy, and money, that I find troubling.
In March 2019, the college admissions scandal erupted, showcasing parent after parent, who wanted to have the doors of prestigious schools swing wide open for their children. They paid large amounts of cash to Rick Singer, an independent college admissions advisor. He created a network of co-conspirators–giving large bribes—to coaches, admission advisors, and a proxy exam taker, who would pose as a student and ace all of the prospective students’ ACT and SAT tests—with perfect scores. It was a hot mess.
This following excerpt is from the Wall Street Journal who covered family after family where the parents were trying to control their child’s college experience. This example is just one person of the fifty who were charged criminally:
“Matteo Sloane was home on spring break when FBI agents showed up at his family’s Spanish-style house in the hills of Bel-Air at 6:15 a.m. to take his father to jail.’
“By the time his father came home at the end of that day after posting $500,000 in bail, Matteo, then a freshman at the University of Southern California, was ready to confront him. ‘
“Why didn’t you believe in me?” Matteo asked. “Why didn’t you trust me?”
“I never stopped believing in you, not even for one second,” Mr. Sloane replied to his son that evening. “I lost sight of what was right, and I lost belief in myself.”
He “lost sight of what was right” and he also became afraid that his son could not succeed in life on his own. Finally, at the end of the article,
“Tom Hudnut, the former head of Harvard-Westlake School, another elite prep school in Los Angeles, said parents often “had no faith in their children’s resilience…Kids should have more breathing room and more say in their life path,” he said.”
That phrase, “had no faith in their children’s resilience” is one that I have thought about a lot. This idea is one of our hardest tasks as parents–to have children that can do hard things, and not fold with the first obstacle or change of temperature. This is one of the ironies of our parenting life. We want our children to succeed in life, but we also want to smooth the path for them and to have easier time than we did. We raise them with privilege and not expect too much from them. The above parents were wealthy, which makes the task harder, because so much can be done for children in a wealthy household. These parents were compensating for their belief in their child’s ability. They had raised children with such privilege that the parents felt their children couldn’t get into a prestigious university on their initiative and grit.
#11:Teach a Growth Mindset
The ground breaking work of Dr. Carol Dweck showed how a “fixed mindset” can hobble our children. If you and your children believe we are born with talents, we are either a fast runner for example or not, this idea will limit us in our ability to try. A “growth mindset” will expect obstacles, will know that mistakes are a part of learning, and look for ways around the hurdles.
#12. The Resistance
What is the resistance in trying to be a Deep River Parent? Seth Godin, the author of the book Linchpin says:
“How can I explain the never-ending irrationality of human behavior?’
“We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to be successful but we sabotage the job interview. We say we want a product to come to market, but we sandbag the shipping schedule. We say we want to be thin but we eat too much. We say we want to be smart but we skip class or don’t read that book the boss lent us.’
Seth Godin calls it “the lizard brain.’
“Or as Steven Pressfield describes it, “the resistance”. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise…The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That’s because the lizard hates change and achievement and risk.”
The lizard brain also includes comparing and gets fearful, like the controlling parents in the college admission stories. When one of my sons had to step out of school for his senior year because school became toxic for him, I had to stop looking at Instagram. I would see all my friends with their star athlete’s with top grades and it wrecked me. I knew what we were doing was the best long term decision we could make, and so I couldn’t compare. That became deadly for me.
#13. Savoring All That is Going Well in Our Lives
A friend taught me about “Savor Moments”. She said a really good Sunday dinner can make someone in her family say, “Yummmmm! This is a Savor Moment!” Or a drive up Provo Canyon when the leaves are turning and it’s so breathtakingly beautiful. This way of focusing on the beautiful view, or the ordinary– warm water that shows up consistently in your shower, is a way of being present, as Eckart Tolle says in “The Power of Now”. Children do this so naturally that they delight us constantly. This a few years ago at Christmas, my 4-year-old granddaughter looked out at the herd of deer that were consuming our landscape and said, “Oh look! There are snow animals!” Something that I wouldn’t have thought twice about or felt irritation over my ravaged plants was a wonder to her. It was so remarkable for me to step into that fascination with her, and look and appreciate the beautiful scene.
We lose this wonderful ability to marvel that we had as children unless we are super awake and connected. If we don’t have margin in our lives to actually enjoy our lives, it is impossible to savor anything.
One of my favorite takeaways from the book, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being”, by Dr. Martin Seligaman is focusing on “What went well” in his patients’ days or weeks. He said this mindset will slowly shape us to see the world around us in a positive light.
This is also something we could do at dinner with our families every day and ask, “What went well today, and why do you think it went that way?” We ask this question with our children on our weekly zip dates and also with our adult children that live in other states when we Facetime.
As we seek to shield our children from too much—technology, junk food, materialism, leisure time—we can focus on these thirteen principles to shape more positive interactions in our families that can influence the tone of our homes in meaningful and sustaining ways.
There is so much cultural resistance to the affirming, core beliefs we are trying to instill. We have to become really clear on what our priorities are and to face obstacles head on. Becoming the gatekeeper in our homes to allow less of what the world is offering is a profound commitment. You need to have the long view of what your efforts are going to produce—successful children on the inside.